I had a hard time falling asleep last night, thinking about my own mother, who many of you know passed away from a heart attack five years ago. I lost my father, also suddenly, from a blood clot five years before that. I understand the shock you feel at losing someone so suddenly, and the heartache of never having had the chance to say, "Goodbye."
In my mother's case, she had been feeling poorly for a couple of days and thought she had the flu: nausea, body aches, just all around lousy. She lived alone at her home in CA, and on the day of her heart attack she was waiting for a worker from the phone company to come and install another phone line in her house.
Her friend and neighbor stopped by and encouraged mom to go to the doctor. Mom told her she had to stay home and wait for the phone company. She asked the neighbor to pick up some soup for her at the grocery store. The neighbor left to do that, and when she returned with the soup she found my mother passed out in the kitchen and called the ambulance. At the hospital, doctors discovered she'd had a heart attack the day before, and, left untreated, she'd then had a stroke. By the time I reached her from CO, she was unable to communicate. She had to be medicated as soon as I arrived because, in her confusion and pain, she wouldn't stop trying to pull out all her tubes and catheters. She went to sleep then, and she never woke up.
My relationship with my mother was such that we didn't talk daily, or even weekly sometimes. I acknowledge, though, that even if I had been talking to my mother on the day she had her heart attack, had she told me her symptoms I probably would have agreed with her that she was suffering from the flu. Her symptoms didn't include chest or arm pain -- the signs that I had understood to indicate heart attack.
Physicians have just in the last year or two been trying to get the word out that women often have different symptoms than men when suffering a heart attack, like what my mother experienced. It's so important to be aware of this. Here is some clear information from The Mayo Clinic:
"The most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But it's not always severe or even the most prominent symptom, particularly in women. Women are more likely than men to have signs and symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
- Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Unusual fatigue
My heart goes out to Joannie. If you have lost your mother, you know as I do that her life will never be the same. In case you missed it, here's a video of her skate. Don't watch it without your hankie, though!